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It's a gem
Effingham County officials cut ribbon on sparkling SPLOST-funded facility
New gym
This logo adorns the floor on the Rebel Court and Mustang Court in the new gymnasium at the Clarence E. Morgan Complex. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff


 SPRINGFIELD — It’s not just a gym. It’s a beautiful $4.5 million gem.

That was the consensus during Sunday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony for Effingham County Gymnasium, a 30,000-square-foot facility at the Clarence E. Morgan Complex that features multiple courts and state-of-the-art amenities.

The complex’s namesake and head of the Effingham County Recreation Department for 55 years called the gym “as fine of a facility in the state of Georgia or the Southeast.”

Frequently choked with emotion, Clarence Morgan thanked the Effingham County Board of Commissioners for its support for the project and the recent upgrades of the gym at Springfield Central. The group includes Wesley Corbitt (chairman), Forrest Floyd (District 1), Roger Burdette (District 2), Jamie DeLoach (District 3), Reggie Loper (District 4) and Phil Kieffer (District 5).

Morgan also expressed gratitude to Wendall Kessler and Vera Jones, who were commissioners when the idea for Clarence E. Morgan Complex originated in 2014.

“And we thank the citizens,” Morgan said. “Without you, the citizens, we couldn’t do anything.”

In 2014, Morgan asked the commissioners for $1.5 million to upgrade the gym at 808 Ga. 119 in Springfield. The request was tabled, which concerned Morgan at the time.

“We almost had a heart attack,” Morgan said. “Turns out, it was the best thing that ever happened to us.”

Unbeknownst to Morgan, the commission was set to buy 120 acres to build a recreation complex. About $14.5 million later, the site on Ga. Hwy 21 features multiple ball fields, including Josh Reddick Stadium, batting cages, playgrounds and, of course, the sparkling gym.

Each of the commissioners got a turn at the podium. DeLoach used his time to thank RW Construction for using at least four local contractors on the gym project, which was completed under budget and seven weeks early.

 Like most of the other commissioners, DeLoach also expressed gratitude to the audience for supporting SPLOST, a local one-percent sales tax.

“I think any time we spend money on our children and our youth, I think the return on the investment is infinite and we can’t go wrong. I am extremely proud of the product we’ve done here today,” DeLoach said. “I appreciate everyone who had a hand in it.”

Other dignitaries on hand included County Manager Tim Callanan, U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, state Rep. Jon Burns, state Rep. Bill Hitchens, state Sen. Billy Hickman, Georgia Recreation and Parks Executive Director Steve Card, and Georgia Recreation and Parks Department Athletic Chairman Dadrian Cosby. Officials from Hussey Gay Bell, the architecture and engineering firm for the project, and RW Allen Construction were also in attendance.

“SPLOST is extremely important,” Carter said. “This gives you the opportunity to vote on projects like this. Obviously, this is a good use of tax money.

“There is no question about it.”

The congressman than lauded Morgan for his lifetime of achievements in his field.

“Clarence E. Morgan, that name is synonymous with recreation in Effingham County,” Carter said. “It is only appropriate and fitting that (this complex) be named for him.”

Carter continued.

“This is more than a building,” he said. “This is going to change the lives of people. This is going to change the lives of our youth.

“If you talk to the police, if you talk to the judges, they will tell you that the children that come out of here, the kids that are involved in here, have a much better chance of making it than those that are not. Those on the street with nothing to do are the ones at risk.

“Those who come out of programs like this — it gives them a head start, and that’s what we all want.”

Burns noted that the gym will help build stronger families.

“I don’t know of any other medium in our society that brings young people together with their parents and those that love them than athletics,” he said.

Morgan, who estimated that 75 percent of the people in Sunday’s crowd participated in recreation department programs, gave area media members a tour of the gym Thursday.

“To tell you the truth, I never thought we would be able to get something like this,” he said at the start. “... This is the Taj Majal of rec gyms.”

Upon entering the facility, visitors are greeted by Effingham County’s familiar logo on the floor. A turn to the left takes them to the restrooms. The one for women features 11 stalls.

A right turn at the front entrance take visitors toward a reception area, an office, a conference room and a large, well-equipped concessions stand.

“The county made a promise that they wouldn’t cut corners and they haven’t cut them yet,” Morgan said.

The court area consists of 18,000 square feet. It can be divided into two full-size basketball courts or three regulation volleyball courts made of shock-absorbing synthetic vinyl.

In the basketball configuration, the courts are divided by a giant curtain that can be raised with the flip of a switch. A scoreboard donated by Savannah Coca-Cola, a longtime recreation department sponsor, is perched on each end of both courts.

“We are one of the few places that got scoreboards during the pandemic,” Morgan said.

As a nod to Effingham County and South Effingham high schools, one court features navy wall padding and the other has cardinal. The are called the Rebel Court and Mustang Court, respectively.

The dressing rooms for each court also sport the appropriate color and they include benches, two rows of clothing hooks and a whiteboard for coaches.

Each dressing room has multiple toilets and two showers. One of the showers is handicapped accessible. 

“We didn’t put in any urinals in case we have all girls in,” Morgan said.

There is one more special feature Morgan noted.

“And I’m proud of the storage area,” he said. “We’ve never had that before. It’s ten times what we normally have.”

Morgan believes odds are good that the Clarence E. Morgan Complex will be completed in the next two or three years. The next phase will likely include four or five more baseball fields and four to six soccer/football/lacrosse fields.

“Hopefully, a couple of those will be turf,” he said.

The completion of complex is important to the commissioners.

“We have come a long way. We are not through and we are going to finish what we started,” Loper said Sunday.